BOZICH | Anton Gill provides the thrill as Louisville gets Michigan State in Elite Eight
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WDRB) – Let's stop being polite and remember what they were saying about Anton Gill as the University of Louisville basketball team began this merry march into the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.
That Gill was a three-point shooting specialist who had not been especially fearsome shooting his left-handed shot from distance.
That when U of L coach Rick Pitino needed a replacement for the dismissed Chris Jones last month Pitino gave a ton of minutes to Quentin Snider and a trickle to Gill.
And that maybe Gill's second season at U of L was going to be his final season, with Gill headed back to North Carolina to finish his career at a school closer to where he grew up – which, of course, was Raleigh, less than 15 minutes from the North Carolina State campus.
For four months Gill was tucked in the middle of the U of L bench, averaging less than 10 minutes, three points and one pat-on-the-back per game. On many nights his trademark expression was a frown when another three-point shot clanked. Gill had made four – all in the Florida State game – since Jan. 7.
The only time Gill frowned Friday night was after his teammates surrounded him in the locker room, squeezing the oxygen out of him in the center of a rowdy 13-player hug.
It was their playful way of telling Gill how much they loved the seven critical points that he scored in the Cardinals' 75-65 victory, seven points that pushed Louisville from a 54-53 deficit to a 62-57 lead.
At first, Gill laughed.
“Everybody jumped at him,” said Dillon Avare, another reserve guard. “Then he got mad. He wanted everybody to get off.”
“We stayed right on him,” he said.
“They almost broke my neck,” Gill said. “It was fun. But it got a little too physical.”
Anton Gill has another game to play – an Elite Eight game Sunday against Michigan State in the Carrier Dome for a chance to move into the Final Four.
Just the other day, while exercising, U of L coach Rick Pitino called Gill and told him a story about his 1987 Providence team, the first unlikely group that Pitino coached to the Final Four in his Hall of Fame career.
That team had a kid named Darryl Wright, who struggled through a funk during the Friars' uneven season. Then Wright went crazy in the Southeast Regional in Freedom Hall, helping Providence to upset victories against Alabama and Georgetown. Check the NCAA record book, Wright's name is there with MVP Billy Donovan as a member of the all-regional team.
Pitino told Gill that he could do the same thing. Talk about coaching somebody up, up and away.
“He went in and basically won the game for us with his two big plays,” Pitino said. “For him to have this moment, I'm thrilled.”
Actually it was more than two plays. Gill entered the game with 8:31 left after Wayne Blackshear earned his fourth foul. Louisville led 53-49, a lead that North Carolina quickly erased with five consecutive points.
Not for long. Gill slashed to the goal from the right wing and scored. Then another move from the right wing that resulted in a three-pointer. Then, after two free throws by Terry Rozier, another basket from Gill on a drive.
“I've been shooting my whole life,” Gill said. “I figured if I kept shooting one of them would go in.”
No Gill. No victory.
Sure, Rozier was everywhere, enhancing his 17 points with 14 rebounds, a remarkable total for a 6-foot-1 guard. Montrezl Harrell was Montrezl Harrell, the guy CBS Sports asked to interview after the game because of his 24 points and seven boards.
Quentin Snider, the unflappable freshman from Ballard High School, earned his paragraph of praise, too. Not only did Snider outscore N.C. State's Cat Barber 14-to-8, he played 37 minutes without a turnover. Make that 109 minutes with only two turnovers in the NCAA Tournament for Snider.
But this was a night when U of L sent Anton Gill to the podium after the game to answer questions from media members around the country. Several said they'd never heard of Anton Gill until late in the second half.
This was a night when 20 more people with microphones, cameras and tape recorders waited to hear more about Gill's unlikely story when he returned to fetch his clothes.
Mark it down as only the fifth time this season Gill had made three field goals in one game. He didn't even leave the bench when Louisville opened the tournament against UC-Irvine. He played two minutes without a field goal attempt against Northern Iowa.
And then seven points in about 2 ½ minutes that helped Louisville beat a North Carolina State team that had just handled the Cardinals at the KFC Yum! Center six weeks earlier.
“Obviously we know Anton,” N. C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. “I think he's averaging two points a game, maybe, and he jumps up and gets seven at the most critical time of the game. You've got to give him credit.”
“You kind of dream about stuff like this,” Gill said. “I didn't necessarily think it would happen like this but I'm glad it happened and that I could be a part of something like this.”
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